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Author: Subject: Carolina Chocolate Drops

Universal Peach





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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 08:29 AM
Excellent old-time string band who's members happen to be black (which might be a surprise to some people, but really shouldn't be). Taj Mahal has toured with them using them as his back-up band. Their new CD "Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind" is good one, and it's put out by Music Maker Relief Foundation, which is group that is committed to preserving "southern root music" by helping many of the artists (most of which are elderly and unknown) have the resources to live a decent life and to make sure their songs and music get heard. Anyway here's a link to their website.

http://www.sankofastrings.com/ccd/

Drops in the bucket

Why black old-time bands are more elusive than white rappers

by Tom Kerr

Some music genres reward almost any innovation or improvisation. But impressing old-time fans with your unique arrangements of fiddle and banjo tunes can be harder than nailing Jell-O to a fence post.

The Drops’ repertoire includes standards like “Dixie,” “Sourwood Mountain” and “Tom Dula”—though they might pull out a snare drum for one song, and they aren’t afraid to fret the banjo with a wicked slide. The band uses harmonica on some arrangements, and substitutes a clay jug to play lines normally reserved for a stand-up doghouse bass.

Still, Rhiannon Giddens (banjo, fiddle, voice), Justin Robinson (fiddle, voice) and Dom Flemons (guitar, banjo, jug, harmonica, snare and voice) didn’t try to break the mold when it came to choosing their band’s name. It’s taken straight from the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, a black string band from the late 1920s.

Old-time-country-blues preservationist Taj Mahal described the current Drops’ debut CD, Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind, as “electrifying.” The band plays backwoods fiddle tunes and square-dance clawhammer-banjo jigs with a barn-burning vengeance that immediately commands attention, earns respect and compels people to get up and buck dance like it’s going out of style.

But in fact, the group traces its roots back to an orchard that—until these musicians came along—many people didn’t know even existed.

Flemons explains why that chapter of American musical history is so obscure: “String-band music went down the same road that blues, jazz, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, funk and even hip-hop is going,” he says.

We all know that those genres were eventually appropriated by white musicians. “The only difference,” explains Flemons, “is that black string-band music was not preserved in recordings. It had no context in the popular black community, so there was no market [for it]—meaning the record companies had no demand—which means there are only a few [black] string bands that actually got to record.”

The Carolina Chocolate Drops follow the path of bands like the legendary Mississippi Sheiks of the ‘30s and black musicians from the North Carolina Piedmont, including Odell and Nate Thompson, Dink Roberts and Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (all deceased).

“We each came to this music individually, and we all thought that we were the only black people doing this music—and we were, in our respective locales,” offers Robinson. “I started off in classical violin as a child but quit around middle school and didn’t start playing again until college. I got interested in old-time music specifically when I heard an NPR broadcast about Joe Thompson” (Odell and Nate’s brother, an 88-year-old fiddler from Mebane, N.C., whose family has played old time for more than 100 years).

“Joe is the basis for our sound,” reveals Flemons. Robinson agrees: “His family’s style of playing has really influenced ours. We all go to visit Joe as a band, and we each take something different away from every session.”

The three Drops met at a banjo festival near Boone that was co-organized by Giddens. The 2005 Black Banjo Gathering was originally planned as an informal fish fry or barbecue with about 10 black banjo players in attendance. With the participation of big names like Béla Fleck, it grew into a four-day extravaganza.

Fleck, who’s white, is one of the few current banjo innovators who can sell out an auditorium. But the instrument of his fame, as Flemons explains, “is a black instrument—and an amalgamation of many instruments in Africa. For the first 100 years of its existence in America, the banjo was an instrument of black culture only.


[Edited on 3/22/2007 by cleaneduphippy]

 
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True Peach



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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 08:56 AM
Good Stuff. I have a friend that works for the Florence SC newspaper and he is nuts about this band............

 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 09:17 AM
Oh yeah, I dug it. Thanks for the link.
 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 09:41 AM
I saw them a few weeks back here in Memphis at the Folk Alliance - they were really good

 

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Zen Peach



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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 10:46 AM
The Carolina Chocolate Drops are awesome. I'm very proud of them, actually. As the article says, the Black String Band tradition goes back over a hundred years in this country. Old time music itself has seen a resurgence in recent years, as folks dig into the music that pre-dates even bluegrass. Somewhere along the way, the African-American tradition of string bands was lost along the way. Folks like Otis taylor and Tony Thomas and the Drops are trying to revive it. I've hung with fiddle player Earl White for years at the Clifftop Festival in West Virginia.

Two years ago I wrote up the Black Banjo Gathering on here,

http://www.allmanbrothersband.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=XForum&file=v iewthread&tid=27209#pid

The Chocolate Drops just spent a week at the Appalshop facilities in Whitesburg, Kentucky where they played concerts, gave workshops and lessons in the schools, and put together an old school contra dance using local musicians. http://www.appalshop.org/

I wrote an article four years ago about old time string music, the difference between old time and bluegrass, (old time is more communal and bluegrass is more improvisational) and the modern day old time scene. The article is one that folks in the music world and otherwise still use as a reference to give to others who are wanting to learn about this music, which is American music whose roots are traced back to the ancient music of Scotland and Ireland combined with African music and the African instrument known as the banjo.

http://www.gritz.net/subscribers_area/features/AppalachianStringFestival.ht ml

DH

 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 01:00 PM
Hey Derek,

Good articles especially the one about Appalachian String Festival. Reminds me a lot of growing up in Pine Hall, NC and going to Union Grove and Galax for their Old Time Fiddler festivals.

 
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A Peach Supreme



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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 01:08 PM
I did a workshop with the Choclate Drops last year at UNCG and they are a great bunch of guys to work with.

 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 01:17 PM
Trorrer, what's your favorite fiddle tune on guitar???

 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 02:00 PM
Derek is that you in the picture in the article. If so, Man, You look exactly like a good friend of mine.

 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 02:21 PM
For a minute, I was afraid Carolina Chocolate Drops was another name for deer poop.

 

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  posted on 3/22/2007 at 03:23 PM
quote:
Derek is that you in the picture in the article. If so, Man, You look exactly like a good friend of mine.


Yes, I'm on the right.

 

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  posted on 3/24/2007 at 12:34 PM
quote:
http://www.citizen-times.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=200770322062

Carolina Chocolate Drops pump new interest into old-time music
by Jason Sandford, jsandford@citizen-times.com


ASHEVILLE — You’ll be seeing a lot of the Carolina Chocolate Drops around Western North Carolina over the next few months.

With an appearance Saturday at Jack of the Wood and dates booked for MerleFest and the Lake Eden Arts Festival, there’s plenty of opportunity to sample the Drops’ fiddle-flavored string band sound that’s energized fans of old-time music.

The Citizen-Times recently caught up with band member Dom Flemons to learn more about the unique acoustic trio.




1 Who are the Carolina Chocolate Drops and what kind of music do they play?

Answer: The band bills itself as a young, African-American string band that plays traditional fiddle and banjo music of the piedmont.

Rhiannon Giddens and Justin Robinson are North Carolina natives and both play the banjo, fiddle and sing. Giddens is from Greensboro. Robinson is from Gastonia. Flemons plays everything from the guitar to the jug to the harmonica and hails from Phoenix. The band has also collaborated with Joe Thompson, one of the last of the traditional Piedmont string band fiddlers.

2 How did the Carolina Chocolate Drops form?

A: The three met up at the Black Banjo Gathering, a meeting of African-American players and scholars of traditional music in April 2005. At that time, Giddens was working on a solo career and Robinson was getting into the fiddle, according to Flemons.

“That’s where we all came together. We did this gathering — huge, amazing thing. After that, we were all in this sort of lull afterwards because we had met all these people that were interested in the banjo and also looked like us, because we all thought we were the only one until this gathering,” Flemons said.

3 How does the band work with

traditional music?

A: “The best way is to change it, but don’t make it a point to change it,” Flemons said. “What I like to do is I like to reproduce exactly what I hear first and then from there, once I grab all the elements, I can look at it and I can let it stew in my brain and think, OK, what is it I like about this tune?”

“I mean that’s what we do with the group. We’ll listen to an old recording or we’ll take a tune from whichever source that we feel like and we play it. And if it works, then we keep it and if it doesn’t work, then we let it go. And then after a while, once we play it enough times, it gels itself.”

4 Does the band feel the responsibility of carrying on a musical tradition?

A: “The sign of someone being a true bearer of a torch is it’s really natural,” Flemons said.

“At one way, it’s really epic to be like, ‘Oh, yes, we are the bearer’s of Joe’s tradition because when he’s gone we’re all that’s left,’— which is true. But at the same time, we’ve gotten so familiar with Joe, it’s like Joe’s just a good friend. To represent his music, it’s like representing a friend of yours, like a song that your friend wrote or that he really likes. You want to represent it right,” he said.

“Then there’s also the black community. Just by the fact that we’re a black band that is doing music that’s tradition is based in the African-American community is one, an anomaly and two, I’ve noticed a lot of people have opened up and said, ‘It’s OK. It’s OK to talk about it.’ So it’s nice to just show and we’re proud of the fact that we’re a black string band,” Flemons said.


 

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